That Was The Month That Was: April 2021

A tiny metal bird bath, with a metal bird, stands on top of an upended railway sleeper. It is surrounded by shrubs and there is ivy climbing very artistically up the sleeper.
Bird bath in the shrubbery.

My birthday month feels as if it were several months rolled into one and also as if there was not enough time in it to do all that I needed to do.

I spent the very start of the month fighting with the ivy that had snuck down the side of my garden and was attempting to eat my hedge, my neighbours fencing, and my garden shed. I have won for now – and my arms ached for days after – but I suspect this is going to be one of those never ending battles because I don’t know where it’s coming from. I mean does anyone ever actually plant ivy purposefully? I’ve certainly never done so yet it seems to be everywhere.

Not that I’d want it gone entirely, of course. It’s part of the garden ecosystem and it can be incredibly aesthetically pleasing when it wants to be, as it ably demonstrates in the picture to the left. And yes, before you ask, my shrubbery also needs a little big trim too. The garden has been a casualty of the pandemic and I really need the rain to stop for more than a few hours at a time so I can get to work on it properly.

Easter, and my birthday, were spent making and eating delicious food and taking myself on mostly soggy walks through the woods. Unusually I received books as gifts (more about that in the next A Year of Reading Frugally update I’ll be posting later in May) and also yarn (see my last Kizzia Crafts post) and my only sorrow is that I couldn’t get together with my friends in person. I still felt very loved, though, because my friends and family are wonderful humans who do online stuff exceptionally well.

My parents have now both received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccination which is a great relief to me. Neither of them had much more of a reaction than a sore arm for a day and now they’re at the two weeks after point where they’re as protected as they can be and hopefully they’ll be able to start going out more and enjoying the spring and summer. I took them out to see the local bluebell woods and Dad and I have been walking on the nearby common but neither of them are keen on doing anything with more people in the vicinity until I am also fully vaccinated.

My second dose is due at the start of June so I should be fully protected by mid-summer when the lockdown is fully lifted (if the Indian variant doesn’t scupper that) so I’m tentatively planning some nice things for after that. The main thing I’m looking forward to is being able to go on the retreat to Chalice Well I was supposed to take as a birthday present last year. Since the retreat house involves shared bathrooms (and thus can’t full open until the final restrictions are lifted) I’m desperately crossing my fingers. I know it isn’t necessary in the grand scheme of things but I really, really would like a proper break to recharge. And then to make sure I see all my friends for hugs. Hugs are important!

person holding white ceramci be happy painted mug in one hand and writing on a notepad with the other.

All that aside, what I mostly spent my time doing in April was writing; working and reworking (and reworking and reworking) a short story I’d pitched to an anthology at the end of last year. What I’ve learnt over those months as I attempted to turn the pitch into prose is that when it comes to writing original short stories where the centre of the story is very close to my heart that the idea I start with ends up, for the most part, light years away from the finished work.

That isn’t to say that what the story is about changes because it doesn’t. What changes is how the story is being told, the form it’s being told in and who it’s being told by. This is so incredibly different from how my flash fiction and short fan fiction stories are written – they come out pretty much fully formed in the first draft and then it’s a case of line edits and small changes to make sure what I’ve written matches what I was trying to say – that I’ve been completely thrown for a loop.

To be honest if I hadn’t decided to join in with Susan Dennard’s story-a-month challenge this year I’m not sure I’d have actually been able to get the story together in time for the deadline but following the hashtag and having Sooz’s monthly updates where she talked about the difficulties she found in short stories saved my sanity and helped me focus on finishing draft rather than worrying that they weren’t “right”. As it was I went through eight completely different versions of the story before I started writing the ninth and felt that “click” in my head that I knew meant I’d found the form it was supposed to be told in.

Looking back at the swathes of notes that go from the brainstorming for the pitch all the way through to the planning for the final story is incredibly informative. I can see where I was trying to tell too much story that I was drowning my own voice. I can see where I needed to narrow my focus and how, when I did, it showed exactly what else needed to shift so that the story I was trying to tell could be told. I can see other stories in there too, some on the same theme, some different, all of them still waiting to be told (and I will tell them) but which were not the story that was struggling to form at that moment. There are discarded plots that, now I have the distance to really look at them, actually tie into my novel length works and don’t belong there at all. Plus characters who seem to have escaped from other stories and clearly need some attention when I can find the time.

There is so much contained within these pages that can be more and I feel as though a dam has been broken somewhere inside my creativity and everything that had been held behind it is now free, flooding through me, rehydrating my imagination and creating lush pastures where the seeds of future stories are already germinating. I have no idea whether what I have submitted will be accepted for the anthology. I do want to see it out in the world but I would not be heartbroken if it doesn’t find it’s place in print this time. After all I’ve gained so much from the writing of it, including the idea for a string of stories that could be an anthology in and of themselves, that it seems almost greedy to expect any further gifts from it. But I shall continue to hope, regardless.

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